Vale: Remembering & Appreciating Professor PB Meegaskumbura

     KNO Dharmadasa, in The Island,  2 October 2020, ….            


Professor P.B.Meegaskumbura, who passed away on the 20th of October after ailing for sometime, is well known among Sri Lankan scholars as an academic who has contributed immensely to expand the vistas of Sinhala Studies. His research and publications include studies of the many branches of Linguistics, the study of Sinhala Classics, Buddhist History, Semantics, Stylistics, and the Society and Culture of the Veddas. Whatever he wrote, whether in Sinhala or English, bore the hall mark of high quality.   

Punchi Banda Meegaskumbura was born in Ravanagoda, Kotmale in 1938.  During his primary education in the village school, he had the good fortune to obtain the first lessons in Pali and Sanskrit from his uncle, the Ven. Ravanagoda Dhammapala Thero. Subsequently he attended the  Handunawe Central School and later, the Walala Central School where he mastered the English language which was the medium of higher education at the time. In 1958, he entered the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya.

Reading for the Special Arts Degree in Sinhala, Meegaskumbura ‘topped the batch’ at the final examination held in 1962. He was soon recruited to the academic staff. Attracted to linguistics studies, then taught by Prof. D. E.Hettiarachchi  and Dr. M. W. Sugatapala de Silva, Meegaskumbura launched his first research work which was about the Noun Phrase in Colloquial Sinhalese. Presenting this study, he won the M.A (research) in 1966. For his doctoral, studies he proceeded to the Deccan College of the University of Pune. He worked on a dissertation entitled “Proto New Indo-Aryan Phonology: A Comparative Re- construction of the Phonology of the Parent Indo-Aryan Language based on Sinalese, Sindhi, Bengali, Oriya, Gujarati, Marati, Punjabi, Bhojpuri and Hindi,” which won him thedoctorate in 1970.

Returning to Peradeniya, Doctor Meegaskumbura was entrusted with the task of teaching the courses in Historical Linguistics earlier taught by Prof. Hetiarachchi, which he did with great skill and dedication.  Also, he was a very active teacher in the ISLE Program conducted at Peradeniya in collaboration with several University Colleges in the US.  He also worked as Visiting Professor in the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages in China (1985-86) and in SOAS, University of London (1994-5) In 2018, he was a Visiting Scholar at the Asian Research Institute in Jerusalem, Israel. Being an excellent translator, he has translated into Sinhala several scholarly works, most notably, Prof John Holt’s The Buddha in the Crown : Avalokitheshvara in the Buddhist Tradition of Sri Lanka (1994), Prof. David Blundell’s  Masks: Anthropology of the Sinhalese Belief System (1997) and  Prof. Hajime Nakamura’s The Way of Thinking of the Asian Peoples (2003).

Prof. Meegaskumbura has been an ideal  Guru who has given silpa dana (the gift of knowledge) to over forty generations of students in Peradeniya. He has selflessly spent his time, knowledge and energy in the service of others, especially in editing their writings. At times this extended beyond the correcting of language and this is gratefully acknowledged by those who thus benefitted. Professor Meegaskumbura receives our salutation as a teacher who upheld humane values and a savant of high distinction.        

One of his last scholarly undertakings was the editing for a second re-printing of the great 12th century Classic Visuddhimarga Sanna, first edited by Ven. Matara Dhammarama Thero in 1929. Meegaskumbura added a lengthy introductionand the complete work extended to 1226 pages. This work was published a few weeks before his death by the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy which he diligently served as a member of the Governing Board.

We can truly say of Prof. Meegaskumbura, (slightly changing the aphorism) rupan Jirathi maccanan–kusala dhammam najirathi  (the form will perish with the flesh but meritorious deeds will never perish) 

May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana

Prof. K.N.O.Dharmadasa


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  1. Pingback: “Punchi”: A Font of Cultural Knowledge so Generous in His Aid to One-and-All | Thuppahi's Blog

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